By the time an English translation of Chilean author Roberto Bolaño’s novel The Savage Detectives was finally released in 2007, he had already passed like a glowing comet, having succumbed to a failing liver in 2003. Bolaño’s novel followed every drunken debauch and whim of a group of young Mexico City poets calling themselves visceral realists, but while the prose was beautifully crafted, the book was starkly short on actual poems.
His biographers make a point of saying that Bolaño’s first love was poetry. Supposedly he only turned to writing novels at the age of 40 after the birth of his son forced him to give up a more bohemian lifestyle. This collection spans his career from 1980 through 1998, the year The Savage Detectives was first published. There are many allusions to the novel and, as in much of his work, some of the same territories are traveled, making this a good companion piece to the novel, or visa versa. Several poems deal with the enigmatic figure of a detective, questioning but never solving the seemingly random and unending violence of South America.
I dreamt of frozen detectives, Latin American detectives
who were trying to keep their eyes open
in the middle of the dream.
I dreamt of hideous crimes
and of careful guys
who were wary not to step in pools of blood
while taking in the crime scene
with a single sweeping glance.
His fascination with forensics would find full flower in 2666, by many accounts, his crowning achievement. At nearly 900 pages, the book is a mammoth project that Bolaño struggled to finish before he died. It is rumored that he even went as far as to postpone a much-needed liver transplant so as to not break stride on his defining work. This struggle is reflected in one of the most moving poems near the end of The Romantic Dogs.
Muse, wherever you
I follow your radiant trail
across the long night.
Not caring about years
Not caring about the pain
or the effort I must make
to follow you.